Shares in Informa rose almost 2% on Wednesday, after the world’s biggest exhibition operator said that 2021 is likely to be a year of “return of physical events,” as hopes of COVID-19 vaccines spark a recovery in consumer confidence.
FTSE 100-listed Informa INF, 6.22% said in a trading statement that it had extended the postponement for physical events outside of mainland China to late spring, but added that 90% of non-Chinese exhibitions planned in the year are now scheduled to run from June onward.
“As the vaccine and testing programs progress, markets gradually open up and customer confidence starts to recover in 2021, we are focused on making the most of physical event opportunities as they arise,” said Informa Chief Executive Stephen Carter.
“It is likely to be a year of return for physical events, rather than full rebound and recovery but the shape and mix of our portfolio, focused on major brands in major markets on major trade routes, puts us in a good position,” he added.
Shares in Informa IFJPY, +4.94%, which have fallen by more than 35% during the past 12 months, rose 1.86% in early morning London trading on Wednesday.
The company, which arranges more than 450 shows each year — including the Monaco Yacht Show, China Beauty Expo, World of Concrete and Arab Health — was forced to cancel or postpone hundreds of events last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought the global events circuit to a standstill. To help weather the crisis, Informa cut jobs, closed offices, raised £1 billion in equity and restructured its debt.
In the last few months of 2020, however, Informa was able to run its first physical events in Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Egypt, and Japan, as well as its first outdoor event in North America, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
“Whilst the latter was smaller in scale than the 2019 edition, the quality of exhibitors and attendees was strong, highlighting the ability to run secure outdoor events within the boundaries of COVID-19 restrictions,” Carter said.
Informa said it expects adjusted operating profit in the range of £250 million ($341 million) to £270 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2020. That compares with a profit of £933 million a year earlier. Revenue is set to reach more than £1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) compared with £2.9 billion in 2019.
After the pandemic fueled demand for virtual events, Informa said the digital experience it had gained through the year had “significantly accelerated” its digital product development, which it now planned to develop further to help the company’s products and brands remain relevant in a post-pandemic world.
The company said its subscription-led business has also proved to be resilient, contributing more than £300 million to adjusted operating profit in the year.
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said the return of events in mainland China gives some scope for optimism and shows what could happen in the West, once vaccination programs are rolled-out and confidence begins to return.
“The shares are still down by a third from where they were a year ago so investors clearly remain cautious about the pace, and extent, of any upturn in demand, but at least the balance sheet and subscription revenues mean they can afford to be patient,” Mould said.
Informa also announced the appointment of John Rishton, former chief executive of engineering company Rolls-Royce RR, 2.51%, as its new chairman. He will take over from current chair Derek Mapp in June.